The spring sports season is delayed until at least May 4.
For the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ tennis team, optimism was high — and rightfully so — as it looked toward this spring.
The Panthers are set to return all 18 players from last year’s team that won its first tournament game in program history.
Now, the girls’ tennis team, like the rest of the clubs, is grappling with a delayed start to the spring due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We were looking forward to our best season thus far,” said girls’ tennis head coach Sue Sookiasian. “Coach (Sue) Moss and I are keeping the faith that we will be able to have some sort of an abbreviated season.”
This spring is also key for the boys’ lacrosse team, but for the opposite reason. The Panthers are tasked with making up for the loss of 10 seniors. Five of those seniors combined for 112 goals, one was its Patriot League All-Star starting goaltender and another was a captain on defense.
“It’s definitely tough because I would have liked to get a full season in to develop the younger guys because the majority of starters last year were seniors,” said boys’ lacrosse head coach Tyler Sabens. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have a spring season even if it’s short.”
If all goes as planned and there are no further setbacks, that short spring season will get underway on May 4 with tryouts. Games will get underway about a week later, according to athletic director Bob Rodgers.
Baseball skipper Pat Cronin, who started coaching 47 years ago, has never seen anything like this, but he understands the delay is necessary.
“[I] Feel for the kids, of course,” Cronin said. “The seniors are in their final year and will be unable to ever get back the time missed. While virtually my entire life has been centered about the classroom and athletic fields, missing a season or part of a season is a small price to pay if we can help to save lives.”
Head girls’ lacrosse coach AC Decker, who was hired last offseason, is possibly facing his first spring without picking up a stick since he was introduced to the sport back in 1975.
“The girls are devastated, especially the seniors,” Decker said. “I can tell that there were many players who were very prepared and ready for the season. The captains, Marissa Connell and Riley Bina (sitting at 92 career goals), organized teams for indoor leagues and kept the players motivated.
“Going into my second year, I felt much better prepared. We were hosting a small preseason jamboree, and I was able to set my schedule this year.”
Josh Lopes is set to enter his first spring at the helm of the boys’ tennis team. He doesn’t think the season will actually happen — and if it does — he won’t have a good feeling going in.
“I don’t know much about the team at all, especially what the experience levels are,” Lopes said. “Quite a few are first-year players. I had met with anyone interested in playing but it does feel like we are going into the season essentially blind. I don’t really know what to expect in terms of ability and players. It was actually part of the excitement for me, thinking about what the possibilities could be.”
Steve George, the girls’ outdoor track head coach, noted it’s frustrating not being able to communicate with his athletes about potential practices and workouts because of a strict MIAA policy that states, “A coach may not directly or indirectly require an athlete to participate in a sport or a training program outside of the MIAA defined sport season.”
“This pandemic has created an immensely frustrating time for me as a coach,” George said. “I’m literally isolated from the athletes, but in addition there are rules placing limitations on what we can discuss or suggest out of season.”
With that said, he is immensely concerned about his athletes getting hurt if the season ends up getting underway.
“I have a growing concern about injury, if and when we do return,” he said. “Accelerating training would increase that likelihood, and the MIAA will proceed with caution to ensure adequate practices take place prior to competition. But many of the athletes will not want to hold back, despite a lengthy period of inactivity and that could be disastrous. My job is to keep them healthy and safe and that is how I intend to proceed.”
Boys’ outdoor track head coach Stephen Schlicting tries to post a tweet each day to keep in touch with his athletes, but he knows it’s not the same as seeing their faces.
“It seems like a long time since I’ve seen the team,” said Schlicting, who also coaches the boy’s indoor track team. “I’m hoping we have this thing beat by May 4. We had a very good group this past winter, and I’m looking forward to the others who will join and start next month.”
Softball head coach Jordan McDermott has been doing her best to keep her players’ spirits up.
“I did do a challenge for a week with the girls where I gave them a challenge and they had the option to do something,” McDermott explained. “I loved how I made it not only for the softball girls but for all those who follow my account; it was pretty cool to see other girls from other schools and towns get involved. I go live here and there on my account and try to check in on the student-athletes. My goal is to keep the girls engaged, active and optimistic.”
One thing is certain: each coach is devastated for their senior(s).